Denver bootmaker crafts custom cowboy boots for Hickenlooper and other clients
Gov. John Hickenlooper wears his state pride on each foot, with iconic Colorado scenes cut into the custom cowboy boots he wears on special occasions.
His wife, Robin, worked with bootmaker Mickey Mussett to create symbols that represent Colorado and the state’s top Democrat. Mussett, owner of Ghost Rider Boots, works out of his garage to meticulously hand-cut leather designs. For Hickenlooper’s boots, that meant images of the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado flag, an aspen That’s the day Mussett’s love affair with cowboy boots began. He and his wife, Marie, started making leather Christmas ornaments shaped like cowboy boots. Mussett used his 25 years of advertising experience to market the boots with attractive packaging, but they didn’t sell. Mussett says that is when he learned “God speaks through brick walls.”
“I kept hitting a wall, and I just needed to listen,” he said. He decided to “listen” when something popped up on his computer screen days later about David Hutchings, a custom bootmaker north of Denver. Mussett says he “took it as a sign from God.” He picked up the phone and called Hutchings, and the call led to an apprenticeship.
“Every Saturday for a year I’d go and learn how to make boots from one of the best bootmakers in the country,” Mussett said. The inner peace he felt while getting creative in his shop made him believe he was on to something.
Mussett hasn’t always made his living in the boot business. He was a middle-age ad executive earning six figures and living in a three-story house in an upscale Denver neighborhood when he awoke one day to be handed his walking papers.
“I used to always wonder why there were no middle-age copywriters, and one day about 14 years ago I found out,” Mussett said. It was at that point he began searching for ways to feed his wife and three children. After a series of temporary jobs, Mussett realized his career as an ad executive was appearing smaller and smaller in his rearview mirror.
Prayer had always been a part of Mussett’s daily ritual, but no matter how hard he prayed, nothing seemed to pan out.
“My son Peter is a priest”, Mussett said. “One day when I was feeling stuck, Peter said, ‘Dad, I had an art teacher who once told me that when you feel stuck, challenge yourself to an art project and give yourself one hour to complete it.'”
“I’ve always loved art, and I wanted a job where nobody could tell me I’m too old,” he said.
Now, at the age of 70, Mussett spends six days a week making someone’s special boots in the garage of his one-story home. He’s usually working on four or five pairs at a time so he can stagger the revenue over several months. His customers come from all walks of life, from all corners of the country. Several brides have hired him to make custom boots to wear under their wedding gowns.
The price for an average pair starts at about $2,000, but as Mussett says, “none of the boots are average, every pair is special to someone.”
While the price tag may prompt sticker shock, “I’m not getting rich,” Mussett says. “Just this month I was wondering how we were going to pay the bills, and then I got a call out of the blue” from a woman who is now the newest client at Ghost Rider Boots.
The former advertising executive has not only learned all about making boots, he’s learned that word of mouth can be even more powerful than a good ad campaign.